Many protests have been organized across the US this week as a result of the death of George Floyd after an arrest by the Minnesota Police Department. Although originally planned as peaceful protests, many eventually turned violent, with vandalism, fires, injuries and arrests.
The evolution of a calm and organized protest to a chaotic riot seems unpredictable but there actually is a pattern. Here are the stages:
Stage 1 The March
Eloquently executed by Martin Luther King, Jr and other civil rights leaders, marches are peaceful gatherings that carry their message forward as they march through streets and neighborhoods with signs and a powerful message of solidarity. Protesters may be silent, chant or carry written messages as they unify for a cause. Many of these current protests align with law enforcement guidelines and rarely result in arrests.
Most protests start out as a march. Many begin during the day and display calm and passionate walkers, many of whom follow police instructions who provide road blocks.
Stage 2 Individuality and Small Outbursts
For some, the calmness and structured march may not be as energizing or demonstrative. As the sun begins to set, some protesters feel more is needed for the cause and that they are the ones to provide it. They might yell, perform some small act of vandalism, or accost a law enforcement officer. If they are few and far between, most flames become extinguished by fellow protesters or by apathy and non-engagement by law enforcement.
Stage 3 Standstill, Anger and Provocation
As night falls and tensions begin to rise, some may begin to build more steam. Angry outbursts fuel more response and some want to engage others. They may throw objects and obscenities at law enforcement, vandalize cars and properties, and accost others watching the protest or even involved in the protest. The march at this point stops and protesters are at a stand still. They have a choice to make…whether to keep it peaceful, or contain the flames.
This is one of the most pivotal stages of any protest as chaos can soon ensue.
Stage 4 Loss of Control, Chaos and Riot
Due to risk of harm to themselves or others, law enforcement at this point needs to engage and control the crowds, vandalism and violence. This causes a cycle of more anger among the protesters and both sides begin to step up their game. Some protesters see this as an opportunity to defy the law as law enforcement is outnumbered and looting may ensue.
Loss of control by protest organizers, law enforcement and protesters themselves create the chaos of a riot.
Many city officials have tried to fend off the possibility of riots by holding pre-protest meetings and using spiritual leaders to help clarify messages and provide positive means to get the message across. But unfortunately it’s certain individuals who don’t get the memo that can turn peaceful protests into a chaotic and deadly scene.
If interventions can be made during Stage 2 and 3, mobs and riots may be able to be prevented. Until then, anger begets more anger and there’s no controlling what’s next.
Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, KDWN, iHeart Radio and a Board Certified Family Physician